Aimee Copeland

Flesh-eating bacteria survivor Aimee Copeland walks with new prosthetic limb

Sep. 11, 2012 at 9:39 PM ET

Ida Mae Astute / AP /
This image released by Disney-ABC Domestic Television shows host Katie Couric, left, with Aimee Copeland, 24, of Snellville, Ga., who survived a rare fleshing-eating disease, during an exclusive interview on the new daytime talk show "Katie," on Tuesday in New York.

Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old who lost her hands, feet and leg to the flesh-eating bacteria earlier this year, astounded audience members Tuesday by walking onto the stage of "Katie" using a prosthetic limb and a walker.

"That felt so good," Copeland said in answer to Katie Couric's question about how it felt to walk again. "I've been sitting or lying down for so long, just being vertical. You take for granted being able to look people in the eye."

The interview, which lasted nearly an hour, featured the fearless 24-year-old, along with her older sister, Paige, and parents Andy and Donna Copeland.  

While audience members dabbed at their eyes, the college student talked matter-of-factly about her accident, the recovery process and how she's currently relearning simple tasks like texting, getting dressed and brushing her teeth.

"I'm working on getting dressed," she said. "It seems like an easy thing but with no thumbs, a pair of tight shorts or jeans are impossible to get on."

Copeland uses voice activated software for some tasks -- such as working on her master's thesis -- and texts with her nose. As for brushing her teeth, she said it's been a bit of a trial with her "nubs," as she jokingly refers to her arms, but an electric toothbrush has helped.

"The standard everyday toothbrush is hard to get into the back and use the right amount of pressure," she says. "I could feel plaque building up and thought 'My dentist is going to hate me!'"

Copeland, who spent two months in the hospital and two more in rehabilitation, recently returned to her parents home in Snellville, Ga., after making an inspiring recovery from what experts say is the worst strain of necrotizing fasciitis or flesh-eating bacteria.

Active and adventurous, Copeland contracted the bacteria after falling onto some rocks during a zip-lining accident along Georgia's Tallapoosa River in early May. The resulting cut, which required 22 staples, became infected with the flesh-eating bacteria, which lives in the river water. Within days, Copeland's organs began to shut down (the bacteria shuts off the blood flow to parts of the body) and she was put on life support.

Couric, who seemed to be holding back tears at times, lauded Copeland for her bravery and strength throughout her ordeal, referring to her as a "gutsy girl" who was "destined to do great things."

Couric also asked Copeland about the accident and the vicious swath the infection cut through her body and touched on the difficult decision Copeland's parents had to make to keep their daughter alive.

"I think the most extreme moment was when my dad lifted up my hands for me to see," said Copeland. "My fingers were black and my hands were deep blood red and he said 'We're going to have to cut them off'. And I said, 'Let's do this.' What else are you going to do? Live with dead hands?"       

Doctors amputated both hands as well as her right foot and most of her left leg.  But the loss of her limbs has hardly slowed the 24-year-old down. In fact, Copeland had only had her walker five days before she used it to cross the talk show stage, prompting a standing ovation.

"I don't like to be called disabled or handicapped," said Copeland. "I say I have different abilities."

Among those abilities: Copeland is currently up to 300 crunches. And she's getting ready to drive again, something that will be much easier, thanks to a new retrofitted van donated by a Chevrolet dealer in her home town.

"I'm totally shocked," said Copeland after watching a video of the gray van, decorated with giant red bows roll up her street and stop in front of her home. "I've been so blessed by the kindness of complete strangers."

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